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Mountain West football round-up Week 4 — West Division

Published September 18, 2013 11:13 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

We wrap up this week's Mountain West football round-up with some updates on the West Division, written by the beat writers who cover the teams.

The West is in quarterback turmoil it seems, with starting jobs either up for grabs or back-ups pushed into starting roles by injury. And the teams that do have quality starters in place - Fresno State and San Jose State - play some of their biggest games this weekend.

For the Mountain Division notebook, click here.

Fresno State

Fresno State is ranked No. 11 in the bowl subdivision in scoring offense, putting up 46.5 points per game, which at times makes coach Tim DeRuyter wonder where the Bulldogs might be if their offense was moving a tad more efficiently these days.

A 27.3-percent conversion rate on third-down plays is one reason the Bulldogs have had to punt away the football 14 times in their first two games, victories over Rutgers and Cal Poly. And going down the Top 25 teams in the nation in scoring offense, there is not another team that has had to punt that often - and 14 of those teams have played three games to the Bulldogs' two.

It's a fairly safe bet that they might need a few points on Friday to take out Boise State in the Mountain West opener and end a seven-game losing streak to the Broncos.

So, the push is on to fix what is stunting the Bulldogs, as it was last week.

It is not just a run game issue, either. The Bulldogs have completed only 53.8 percent (14 of 26) of passes on third down. Quarterback Derek Carr has hit 79 percent (42 of 53) of his passes on first down, 70.4 percent (19 of 27) on second down and 56 percent (14 of 25) on third down.

"I think about it all the time,'' DeRuyter said. "I think we have a very explosive offense. I think at times we can play very physical (in the run game), but unfortunately sometimes that intensity level or communication or vision for the back, it doesn't all coincide and when one guy doesn't do something right a lot of times in an offensive play, it can ruin it, even though 10 guys are doing something right.

"We've got to overcome that and be much more efficient. You're always striving for perfection. It doesn't always happen, but we're going to keep working at it.''

Next game: vs. Boise State, 7:01 p.m. MT (ESPN)

Notable: Last year, Fresno State did not play well away from home, losing at Oregon, Tulsa and Boise State and in the bowl game to SMU. DeRuyter felt they were not ready to handle those environments, especially at Oregon and Boise State. Quarterback Derek Carr: ''I think that's one thing that maybe I did wrong last year, I treated it differently. Like, 'Oh, it's a big game.' When I got out there, it's the same game. It's the same stuff. Being older and being more mature, I feel more confident and ready for this one. I'm always confident, but I feel more mature going into it and in my preparation. It's just another game - trust what I see. Once I finally started to trust what I see, I started doing the right things during the game. I'm going to do that from the start this time, hopefully.''

- Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee

Hawaii

Head coach Norm Chow is sticking with Taylor Graham as the No. 1 quarterback for Saturday's road game against Nevada. Graham was 10 of 20 for 95 yards in the past game against Oregon State. But five of his passes were dropped, including a crucial third-down throw to senior Chris Gant in the third quarter. Graham redshirted in 2012 after transferring from Ohio State, where he did not start a game in two years.

For the Rainbow Warriors, it was a good bye this past weekend. Three players who suffered concussions against Oregon State - middle linebacker Brenden Daley and safeties Trayvon Henderson and Kawika Borden - passed the so-called baseline tests and are expected to play against Nevada. Free safety Marrell Jackson (sore knee) and tight end Jordan Pu'u-Robinson (shoulder) also have been medically cleared to play.

The Warriors will be without special teams coordinator Chris "Demo" Demarest, who received a one-game suspension from the Mountain West Conference. Demarest was suspended for yelling at an Oregon State player who delivered a late hit on Henderson. Demarest will make the trip but remain at the hotel during the game.

Next game: at Nevada, 6:05 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)

Notable: This will be a mini reunion. Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich is a former UH quarterback and offensive coordinator. Ashley Lelie, a former UH receiver and student assistant, is a Nevada graduate assistant. Lelie is UH's highest NFL draft selection. He was picked 19th overall in the 2002 draft. Rolovich threw for 543 yards and eight touchdowns in a victory over BYU in 2001, an outcome that led to the creation of the Hawaii Bowl. ... The Warriors depart on a commercial flight on Thursday. As part of a membership agreement with the MW, UH pays each visiting team between $150,000 and $175,000 in travel subsidies toward rental of charter flights. The Warriors, however, travel commercially between Hawaii and the mainland.

- Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Nevada

The Nevada football team is going into its Mountain West opener with a lot of unknowns at skill positions.

Starting quarterback Cody Fajardo is still nursing a sprained right knee and is questionable for Saturday's game against Hawaii at Mackay Stadium. Backup quarterback Devin Combs suffered a left knee injury in Saturday's 62-7 loss at No. 10 Florida State. Coach Brian Polian revealed Tuesday that Combs has a torn ACL and meniscus damage and will undergo surgery. He is out for the rest of the season.

Redshirt freshman Tyler Stewart played the entire second half against Florida State and went 7-for-15 for 49 yards with one interception. He saw his first collegiate action a week prior in Nevada's 36-7 win over UC Davis.

Stewart is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and has a strong arm, but he has limited experience in the pistol formation.

"(Stewart is) not the athlete Cody is," Polian said, "but he can throw it."

Don Jackson, who opened the season as the starting running back, has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. He is questionable. Kendall Brock, the No. 2 back, did not play against Florida State (knee) but is expected back this week.

Chris Solomon had a 108-yard performance against FSU and is the likely starter. The redshirt freshman began camp fifth on the depth chart.

Next game: vs. Hawaii, 6:05 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)

Notable: Charles Garrett, who played cornerback last season and started at safety this season, has been moved back to cornerback. Bryan Lane is back at safety after being moved to linebacker. ... OL Connor Talbott (ankle) is doubtful again this week. ... Nevada is planning a "whiteout" against Hawaii.

- Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal

San Diego State

The Aztecs return to play after a bye week with a new quarterback at the helm.

After Adam Dingwell threw five picks in the first five quarters of the 2013 season, he was benched early in the Aztecs' 42-7 defeat to Ohio State on Sept. 7.

Quinn Kaehler showed promise when he came off the bench to lead SDSU to a touchdown and finish 22-of-36 for 216 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

Aztecs coach Rocky Long named Kaehler the starter for this weekend's home game against Oregon State, and Kaehler took first-team reps in practice over the bye week.

Dingwell hurt his back against Ohio State and did not practice during the bye week. He returns as the Aztecs' No. 2 quarterback this week.

Kaehler is a junior walk-on who transferred from Diablo Valley College in the spring. He threw for 4,044 yards and 38 touchdowns at Diablo Valley in 2012 and completed 60.5 percent of his passes.

Long said the Aztecs picked up Kaehler because they liked his accuracy.

Next game: vs. Oregon State, 5:30 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)

Notable: RB Adam Muema missed parts of the last two games with a low ankle sprain. He did not practice last week but will likely be back against Oregon State. ... OLB Derek Largent is still recovering from a knee sprain and will not play this week.

- Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego

San Jose State

San Jose State returns from a bye week looking for a road win that would be considered at least a mild upset. The Spartans head to Minnesota for their eighth all-time game against a Big Ten Conference foe.

"I'm excited to go back to Big Ten country," Spartans coach Ron Caragher said. "We know it's going to be a physical game."

It's a game the Spartans need to win to gather momentum ahead of next week's Mountain West opener against Utah State, which is quickly looking like one of the conference's best teams.

A win also would help build a bit of a reputation for SJSU, especially with the Mountain West's struggles so far this season against BCS-conference teams. But Caragher isn't focused on any of that.

"A win is a win," Caragher said. "Regardless of who and regardless of what conference, regardless of their ranking, we just need to take care of San Jose State and play Spartan football."

There are several uncertainties surrounding Minnesota, whose coach Jerry Kill had an epileptic seizure during the Golden Gophers game on Saturday.

"It's my understanding that he's in good health," Caragher said. "I know that was a scary incident. Certainly hope he's back in full health and on the opposite sideline."

Aside from Kill's status, it's unknown if quarterback Philip Nelson will play after injuring his hamstring. Starting running back Donnell Kirkwood, who rushed for 926 yards last year, may be back after missing the past two games.

Next game: at Minnesota, 10 a.m MT Saturday (ESPN2)

Notable: San Jose State is 2-5 against the Big Ten. That includes a 39-30 win over Minnesota in 1992. The Spartans lost 26-20 to the Gophers in 1991. Both games were play in Minneapolis at the Metrodome. The other Big Ten win was a 38-35 victory over Illinois in 2002. ... This is the first of seven nationally televised games this season for SJSU. That total is an all-time high for the school and does not include the game against Stanford, which aired on Pac-12 Networks.

- Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News

UNLV

Senior Caleb Herring put in a record-setting performance in Saturday night's 31-21 victory over Central Michigan, but UNLV coach Bobby Hauck isn't committing to him as the starting quarterback.

Hauck said he would let the competition play out in practice this week between Herring and sophomore Nick Sherry, similar to what occurred last week when Sherry wound up starting against the Chippewas.

UNLV (1-2) hosts Western Illinois (2-1) this Saturday.

"Both of those guys, I think, excel when they're competing during the week," Hauck said. "Then I would anticipate both of them will play some.

"I think when you have two guys you feel can play, it's a benefit to the team. That's been evidenced in the first three weeks. We've used both of them. At different times, both have had success."

Herring had tremendous success against Central Michigan, coming off the bench to complete 24 of 28 passes for 266 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. He was named Mountain West offensive player of the week.

His 85.7 completion percentage broke the school record of 80.8 set by Randall Cunningham in 1984 against Idaho State.

Herring's play and a strong defensive effort helped rally the Rebels from 21-0 down, tying the UNLV record for largest comeback. The Rebels came from 21 back in 1976 to beat Nebraska-Omaha.

After being outgained 233-33 midway through the second quarter, UNLV put together a 378-145 advantage the rest of the way.

Next game: vs. Western Illinois, 7 p.m. MT Saturday (no TV)

Notable: Senior cornerback Sidney Hodge underwent shoulder surgery last week and probably won't play again. He has graduated and has a family. Junior Kenneth Penny broke up three passes while starting in Hodge's place against Central Michigan. "If you had asked me in August, probably better than I thought he could play," Hauck said.

- Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal